I’ll just jump right in…
– Ramon’s Village
I can’t say enough about Ramon’s. I loved everything about it, from our cute cabana (it was classified as “seaside”, but as far as I’m concerned, it was essentially “beachfront”), to the beach, the pool, the hammocks, the activities, and the restaurant. And the staff. They just make everything easy. They made dinner reservations, catered to my gluten-free diet, pretended my children really were perfect, and much more.
My first snorkeling experience was on our trip two years ago. Frankly, this time I was looking forward this time to watching the children get to try it and swim up close to all the fish, but I had forgotten how much I liked it until I again found myself in the middle of the ocean with nothing but a mask and a snorkel. Complete and utter freedom.
Ramon’s arranged for a glass-bottom boat to come pick us up and take us out near the coral reef, the second longest in the world. When we first got to the site, the boat operator fed the nurse sharks so the kids could get a good look at them. They also dispersed somewhat after this, which was good, because the kids could not be entirely convinced that these sharks don’t eat people. (I’m not entirely convinced myself, but I’ve now swam with them twice with no incident. Since what they appear to like is stinky fish, I’ll take it as a compliment that they are not interested in me.)
B.B. still needed convincing. The boat operator’s little granddaughter had come along on the trip. Watching her, I’m convinced there has never been a time in her life when she didn’t know how to swim and handle herself around the water (and the marine life). She had actually ridden to the site on the boat’s flat roof, and startled the kids (who didn’t now she was up there) when she hopped down to the deck of the boat to join us and swim. (It was like something out of a Disney movie.) Anyway, at this point, she began teasing B.B., sweetly calling him a “fraidy cat.” Not wanting to lose face with the cute little island girl, he quickly donned his fins and hit the water.
|Getting shamed into getting in the water by the little girl in the background. It’s ok, son. She is really cute. (And so it begins.)
The kids, however, wanted to stay near the boat rather than swim over some of the coral beds with the man and his granddaughter, but I decided to go with them since they promised the prettiest fish and terrain were to be seen there. I must tell you, though, this did make me nervous, and here’s why: I am not afraid of the water (although I have a healthy respect for it), nor am I particularly afraid of the marine life, even the nurse sharks. I am, however, terrified of the coral. I’ve heard all about how it can cut you and sting if you come into contact with it. The water is fairly shallow there, and at times, you are just a few feet above the coral. It looks even closer because, between the mask and the water, your depth perception is off. So I stayed as flat on the top of the water as possible, but took some comfort that if the little girl, who was swimming and kicking, wasn’t brushing against it, then I wouldn’t either. And I didn’t. Noel was not so lucky. (See below.)
When it was time to head back, the little girl climbed back up to the roof of the boat for the ride. When we arrived at the pier at Ramon’s and disembarked, we discovered her curled up in her beach towel, sound asleep. Now THAT is the life.
– The spa
The day before we left, Sissy (my daughter, 9) and I went to a lovely spa, SolSpa, in town. This was her first time at a real spa, and from all indications, she thoroughly enjoyed her facial and mini-massage. (Since returning home, she has decided that she wants to be a massage therapist and aesthetician, and has been offering her services to those in our household, transforming her gymnastics mat into a spa table. Her rates are quite reasonable, and she even offered to keep a tab open for each family member and bill them at the end of the month. How considerate. Perhaps I’ll also start keeping a tab in the kitchen for her meals.)
I also had a massage, which was among the best I’ve ever had. Even more memorable, though, was the conversation with the massage therapist. She was originally from the Northeast US, she said, and had come to San Pedro about six years ago. She said that she and her husband had visited as tourists and loved it. Then, when the economy affected her husband’s job (in the mortgage business) and it became apparent that a change of some sort was inevitable, they abandoned Baltimore for sunny San Pedro, bringing with them only four suitcases, themselves and their young child. They’ve had two more children since moving to San Pedro. I had a ton of questions:
What is the school situation? (About five elementary schools on the island, her child is in a reasonably-priced private school with about 15 students per class, mix of American ex-pats and locals.)
What about health care? (Different that in the US. There are doctors on the island, but the hospital is on the mainland.)
What’s the tax structure? (Income tax is 6% and business tax is 12%. Yes, my jaw dropped. Also, most Belizeans don’t make enough money to pay income taxes. The threshold is about $250 US dollars per week.)
Do you feel safe? (Yes, mostly just a little petty theft during the low season.)
And on and on. I’ve never talked that much during a massage, but it was just so interesting.
She did say that it is not for everyone, but that they have loved it and that such a move requires an adventurous spirit and lots of patience. I believe it. I do see the attractiveness in it, though. You really could simplify life and pare down to the essentials (you’d have to), and lose a lot of baggage in the process. A stark contrast to typical American excess.
Other good things:
– The food (with the exception of food poisoning incident below). Lots of fresh seafood, with Caribbean flavors.
– The prices. The exchange rate is two Belize dollars to every American dollar. The prices on most things are in line with what we are used to here.
– Firsts for the kids: air travel, foreign country, the spa, snorkeling.
– The souvenirs (also see the turtle, below under “The Cranky”). We didn’t bring home a ton of souvenirs. Sissy bought a pair of earrings and I bought a necklace. Plus all the sand left in our shoes and our luggage. Hopefully no Dengue Fever (see mosquitos, below).
-Fire coral. Noel had an encounter with some fire coral while snorkeling around the pier. For future reference, if this happens to you, treat it like a jellyfish sting.
– Food poisoning on day four from undercooked burger eaten on night three. I didn’t notice that it was pink until I was two-thirds done with it. (We were eating outside at night.) Undercooked USDA beef might be one thing. Undercooked Central American beef is apparently ENTIRELY another. I won’t say I really thought I was dying (although it did cross my mind), but I was concerned that I would need medical care, and at this point, I hadn’t yet had the conversation with the massage therapist about there being a decent doctor’s office on the island. I’ll spare you the details but I will not be eating a burger anytime soon.
– Mosquitos. We didn’t encounter a single one two years ago, but this time, if there was not a breeze, the mosquitos were out in force. The locals said it was because there had been a good bit of rain right before we got there. Thankfully, the grocery stores there sell Deep Woods OFF. We went through two cans. I was concerned that one of us would come down with Dengue Fever, a mosquito-borne illness common to Central America, but we appear to have escaped that malady. (I’m told it’s more common on the mainland, but fairly uncommon on the island.)
– Rain. It rained the last day and a half or so. Not a huge deal. Rain at the beach is still better than rain anywhere else. Plus, it coincided with the food poisoning sickness.
– The toothbrushes:
After the change of plans (decided to drive down to Gulfport the night before the flight instead of getting up super early the morning of), I did my best to make haste in the final packing to get out the door. The one thing I forgot was pretty crucial, however. Toothbrushes. EVERYONE’s toothbrushes. I had bought a whole pack to take with us in our luggage. To make it even funnier, we each had a little bag of toiletries just for the hotel that we would not be taking on the plane (didn’t want to unpack and repack). So we had toothbrushes at Gulfport, but not when we got to San Pedro. This spurred a tirade by me about how my husband is always changing the plan (well, he does) then won’t take any ownership in the mishaps caused by such changing of plans. He went to the store and bought toothbrushes, though, so I hushed.
– The turtle
In the Belize City airport on the day we flew in, B.B. spotted a stuffed sea turtle in a touristy airport gift shop. I told him that he should wait, he might see something he wanted more in San Pedro, and that if he still wanted the turtle when we left Belize, he could buy it then. Fast-forward six days. It’s time to buy the turtle, because it’s STILL on his mind. Problem: we can’t get back to the same exact gift shop because you get routed through the airport differently when you are leaving than arriving. We pass about five other shops, but at each one, he looks at the selection of stuffed animals and shakes his head. The one turtle we did find WAS NOT THE RIGHT TURTLE. Omg. We are minutes from boarding, and I can see a full-on melt down if we don’t find the thing. Then a nice salesperson asked if he could help. I told him the predicament, and he said, “Wait right here.” Well, he must have had to either swim somewhere to find it, or had to make one from scratch, it took so long. Seriously, people started to think I worked there, I was in there so long. Finally, though, he appeared again, turtle in hand. (By the way, this special turtle is not very big, if you’re wondering. About five inches in diameter. And about $5 US. But it’s what the boy wanted.) I have never been so happy to see a stuffed animal in all my life. The plane ride home would not have been a good one otherwise.
On this trip, the kids got to see for the the first time that the rest of the world is not like America. That cuts both ways. We have much to be thankful for, a ridiculous amount, really, and we don’t even realize it. It is incredibly humbling to encounter those who have so much less but appear to be so much more content.
I don’t say all this for a guilt trip, although I do marvel at what the typical middle-class American lifestyle must look like to much of the rest of the world. I do, however, have to remind myself that with great blessings comes great responsibility (which I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t always handled as best I should). And it’s not optional. (“Feed my sheep.”) Now I have two children for whom it is my job to impart an understanding of such things. We moms are pretty adept as using guilt as a tool (that seems to come along as part of the birthing process). Seriously, among my generation, is there anyone out there whose mom didn’t at some point encourage membership in the “clean plate club” because there are “starving kids in China” or something to that effect? In my own house, it goes something like this: “You do realize that if your worst problem today is that your screen is cracked on your tablet, you are still doing ok, right?”
I know inside, however, that a better way to impart and instill values is by example. BUT THAT IS HARD. It just is. Because parents are still human. Because life is complicated and fast-paced. Because “he’s still working on me.” I don’t have all the answers. Heck, sometimes, I don’t even know what the question is. It’s ok, though, because I think one big reason God gives us our children is not because we are such beacons of good parenting skills, but rather because He has things to teach US through our children. Honestly, I have learned more about what God is like (and have also eaten more humble pie) in each of the last nine years than in all the previous years put together. And I’m sure that will continue.
So I am thankful for the great vacation we had and the time we spent together, and all the fun stuff we did. But I’m even more thankful for the opportunity to allow the kids to begin to understand the world a little, and perhaps began to catch a glimpse of their roles within that world. And to remind myself of mine as well.